January 15, 2010

Head Static…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:54 pm


Fire drives a thorn of memory in the heart.

—Thomas Wolfe

It’s been noisy lately. Steady static noise. In my head. I’m not sure why. Probably a combination of a lot of things.

Sometime over the holidays, around Thanksgiving, I could feel it creeping in. Out there on the fringes of my consciousness. A deep sense of brooding, tinged with sadness. Remembrance and loss. Palpable. Persistent. Crashing in and receding in small but savage waves, it could not be shaken off or shrugged away.

I’ve learned, when such a brooding mood strikes, not to ignore it. Let it work its way through the system. Not embraced necessarily, but absorbed. Usually within a few days, a week at most, it’s gone.

But not this time. It hung in there, hovering around me like a cloud. Right up through Christmas.

I thought of things. A tangled jumble of memories and events. Stuff that went down in recent years. Stuff that crept back into my head. What was before. Things that once were but no longer are. Idealized in retrospect, certainly. But still, things that might have been.

Guys aren’t supposed to be like that, I know. Shrug it off. Move on. I had, I thought, mostly. But somehow, a sliver of a thread still connects. The past returns, unan- nounced and unexpected, at the most inopportune moments. And will not be denied.

Sporadically then, the grieving process continues.

After the holidays, I pretty much snapped out of it, as if waking from a dream. Where am I and how the heck did I get here?

I knew, of course. And know. But something inside doesn’t.

Overall, 2009 wasn’t that bad of a year. I accomplished some, if not all of my goals. Did some pretty intensive writing, which is one of my main measures of judgment. And I’m one year older. Approaching fifty.

And there were losses, too, unexpected and abrupt. I think of my friend Allan some- times. And it sinks in how much I really miss him. Sometimes of a Sunday evening, I half expect him to come striding through the door, chattering away as only he could. Always catch myself and push back the rush of memories. Think it cannot be that he’s gone. That, I suppose, is part of the grieving process too.

The winter weather isn’t helping any. Incessant cold has set in. Day after day, week after week. Snow storm after snow storm. It’s enough to depress a guy, even if he wasn’t so inclined otherwise.

And then, to top it all off, over New Years, I got sick. I never get sick, not with all the vitamins I scarf down every day. Not to mention Superfood. But on the Monday before New Years, I felt it coming on. Ached all over. Back, knees, head. A day later, the full blown head cold set in. Might have been the Swine flu, for all I know.

So I was inflicted with another kind of “head static.”

It got worse. On New Years eve, I lost my voice. Almost totally. No running around seeing the old out, and the new in. I sat bundled up, watching football, sipping orange juice and tea, and gulping handfuls of whatever vitamins I could grab. For a few days I pretty much stayed in the house, which is highly unusual for me. Even when I’m sick. After a week or so, I slowly cleared up. Almost back to normal now. Hope it’s another five years before I get hit like that again.

This week, the Haiti earthquake dominated the news. A poverty stricken nation, solely dependent on foreign aid already, practically leveled. A natural tragedy, almost beyond comprehension. California, take note. One of these days, San Francisco will simply vanish into the sea.

Some of my friends were closely affected by the Haiti disaster. A few were almost killed. Rodney and Lillian Smoker, a young couple from our church, were practically at the epicenter. Rodney spent most of his twenty-eight years in Haiti, living there with his missionary family.

The Smoker family. Lillian, Jeremiah, Rodney

They had arrived a few days earlier for a three-month stint and were at his “home” when the quake hit. They were in the second floor of the three story house. The structure collapsed onto almost thirty people on the first floor, killing most of them. Miraculously, Rodney and Lillian and their year old son, Jeremiah, escaped almost without a scratch. They managed somehow to get a message back to their extremely worried families late that night. Two days later, a group from another church five hours away sent in a team to evacuate them and a few other survivors. So they are safe, at least physically. But Rodney lost many, many of his close friends and “family.” Unbelievable devastation all around, and for him, staggering personal loss.

The shock and emotional trauma, I’m sure, will have to be dealt with for a long, long time. For both of them.

The media immediately denounced Reverend Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh for making un-PC statements about the disaster. Limbaugh can defend himself. I heard him say nothing wrong. But poor Robertson was mercilessly excoriated by secularists and Christians alike for his comment. Something about how way back when, the Haitians made a pact with the devil to be free from the French. And how voodoo remains prevalent in the country to this day.

Near as I can tell, what Robertson said was true. He didn’t say the devil pact was the reason for the earthquake. He did say that Haitians need Jesus and a whole lot of charity right now. Meanwhile, his organization is flying in countless plane loads of supplies for the Haitians. Why is anyone fussing about that?

Somehow, Robertson reminds me of the Old Testament prophets. Every time he opens his mouth, he’s viciously attacked and denounced from all sides. Including Christians who hasten to distance themselves from a daft old fogy and to proactively showcase their own “tolerance.” Robertson, undeterred, soldiers on.

I’ve noticed that if you listen to him in context, what he says usually makes a whole lot of sense. Not always, but more often than not. He is the last of a dying breed. Along with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Robertson provided an instant media-ready punching bag for decades. There won’t be any like them after Pat passes on. And that’s our loss.

A few words about football, which I have ignored on this site for months. First, a public apology to my Jets. I scolded them quite severely when they fired Mangini last year. I still think it was a mistake. But the new rookie coach, Rex Ryan, has performed more than proficiently so far. Especially with their rookie quarterback. Even won a playoff game last Saturday. And yes, I celebrated. Being a Jets fan is somewhat akin to being a Cubs fan in baseball. Always hopeful, but knowing full well that the team will find a way to defeat itself.

They will run into a wall this weekend, I think, against the Chargers. But I’m rooting for them. My prediction: the winner of the Cowboys/Arizona shootout (next weekend) will lose to the Chargers in the Super Bowl.

I live in an old house. All brick. The builder must have loved natural light, because he installed large, and I mean huge, windows in every wall, every nook and corner. Vast monstrosities, the original windows still remain. Ancient decrepit, leaky things.

And in a winter like this, the cold air blows right through. The windows function more like a sieve. I’ve always despaired of replacing them because of the astronomical cost of replacing so many.

But the crews are hungry this winter, so I decided to at least get a quote. I contacted a young Amish contractor, who allowed that he could probably install them for under $300.00 each. I was astounded. I figured the cost would be double or even triple that figure. So I bit. Come on out and measure and give me a price, I said.

And so he did. He arrived that very night after work. Knocked on the door. Young married guy, probably in his mid thirties. I invited him inside.

“So you’re Ira Wagler.” He said. It was a half statement, half question.

Unsure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing in his mind, I guardedly conceded that I was.

“I’ve read your Elmo Stoll stories,” he said. “My Dad gave me a copy awhile back.”

Oh boy. “Well, what did you think?” I asked.

He liked it. And we sat there at the table and discussed Elmo story in detail. He was intelligent, articulate, a progressive young Amish man. But thoroughly Amish. Which was fine. He wanted to copy the blogs his Dad gave him, he said, but the copy was a copy of a copy of a copy, he figured. The words were almost blurred. Copying them again would make them close to unreadable.

I had known the Elmo blogs were floating around out there. In the Lancaster area and a whole lot of other places. The Amish man’s little anecdote confirmed it.

I’ve got to get The Shepherd Chronicles together and get them published in a little book, I thought to myself. If people are out there trying to decipher almost unreadable copies, there has to be a market. There simply has to be.

If I’m remembered in no other way, there will be at least one future generation of Amish that will know me through those writings. Of that I am convinced.

I dug around and found a hard copy of the blogs and gave that to him. He thanked me profusely. In the meantime he was busily measuring my windows. Upstairs and down- stairs on the north and west sides only. Figured I’d do the coldest half of the house first. The windows are ordered. Within a couple of weeks they should be installed. Cold air, be gone.

And speaking of Elmo Stoll, one of my readers created a computer generated portrait of the man a few months back. Emailed it to me. I was impressed. Accurate enough to be recognizable, for sure. With the reader’s permission, I’ve posted it below.

“Elmo Stoll”
by Lee Nelson Hall, Jr.



  1. I’m sure all your head static will be gone with the clearing weather and warmer days. I think there’s a name for it (seasonal something-or-other) and I think a lot of people get what you get, but it passes. Glad you’re physically feeling better and you’ll love your new windows ~ great investment! Once you started talking about football my head got fuzzy, so can’t say much about that. SO happy to be reading your posts again!! :) Have a great weekend ~

    Comment by Beth — January 15, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

  2. Your thoughts on grief resonate a lot with me, having lost my first wife to cancer at 42. People, unconsciously, think death is about the only reason why grief waves do come crashing in. But there are many losses in life and grief accompanies each one to some degree. Certainly what I have read from your blog you have had ample reason to have some internal static, etc.

    I also used the wave analogy a lot with my kids when their birth mom died. My four year old thought she would be sad forever, but eventually learned not to panic when a grief wave came crashing in. She knew it would eventually recede again.

    Comment by Leon — January 15, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  3. There is a Cookeville Reunion planned for the first weekend in June about an hour’s drive north of the former community. Am looking forward to being there.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — January 15, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

  4. Jeremiah was no Pat Robertson.

    Comment by Gideon Yutzy — January 16, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  5. Ira, I’ve been reading your blog for a while…..I’d love to see the Elmo Stoll stories published. Be nice if they were a small hardcover book like all the Pathway books I’ve collected over the years. I’m not Amish, but there was a time when I and many others found a lot of solace and direction from those books. It was as if they offered a glimpse into another time that wasn’t so hurried and pressured; as if the onward march of modernity and the changes it caused in society could be halted. Wishful thinking, I know :)

    Comment by Katherine Turner — January 16, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

  6. I agree this country needs more Pat Robertsons!!!!

    Comment by Matt — January 18, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

  7. Umm, Mr Wagler.. your football predictions are a wee bit off. And even tho I was so NOT a fan of how Brett Favre left Green Bay, nor how he joined the Vikings, I have to admit Favre has performed well for the purple.. have to love his passion & exubrance for the game. and I will be cheering for the Vikings against the Saints this Sunday.

    Ira’s response: Umm, Susan, I guess I was off…and by more than a wee bit. But I’m happy. I’ll be cheering for my Jets, of course. But I pick them to lose. Seems to have worked so far. I’m afraid if I pick them to win, they’ll lose for sure. (That’s how paranoid Jets fans are.)

    Comment by Susan — January 20, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  8. Well if that’s how it works, you should predict that the Saints will win this week-end… :)

    Comment by Susan — January 22, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  9. I appreciated your comments on Pat Robertson — Falwell, too. I sometimes think Pat puts his foot in his mouth, but then I read or hear what he actually said and realize he was either mis-quoted or what he meant was left out of the criticism of him. Why was what Danny Glover said about the earthquake almost totally ignored while what Robertson said was misquoted and front and foremost for several days?!

    On the melancholy note – I totally understand. The shock of a sudden loss of a loved one, the grieving process. Two of my late dad’s sisters were killed in a car accident on the 15th in Goshen, IN. Hard to process. It can’t be. It’s not the natural order of things. And then I think of those who have suffered multiple losses in one moment, like your friends in Haiti — how to you process that?

    Comment by Juanita Jutzi — January 23, 2010 @ 6:41 am

  10. I am resigned to think that my “head static” will be with me until spring when I can once again focus my attention on gardening and yard work. Seems to clear the head to get out there and expend some physical energy vs. staying in and thinking about all the changes life has brought in the past few years. As always love your page.

    Comment by Erin — January 26, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

  11. Hi Ira,

    As noted before I am more than willing to print the 3 posts into a booklet and publish it and provide you with it for free.

    You gave me permission to print the first 2 copies and here is a copy of that.

    I could never understand why you would not want the 3 posts put into a booklet.

    Let me know as I am still interested in doing that.

    Bob Mutch

    Comment by bobmutch — February 26, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  12. Unkempt condo. be gone! Time for me to read my favorite blog and, of course, leave a comment.

    You wrote of Haiti and the quake. I can’t believe that was over three years ago. And why, I ask, are tragedies the markers for history? At least it seems so. “It was before 9/11.” or “Do you remember the storm of ’76?” Or…maybe it’s just me fussin’. I wish it were more like, “Yeah, you remember. It was a year after Ben & Jerry opened their first shop.” or “It was around the time the Camaro rolled off the line.” What would the world be like if time were measured by positive events? Yeah, well.

    “Head Static.” There must be a rock group somewhere in this great green earth that’s called “Head Static”. It just fits. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, but if the opportunity arises don’t pass it up. The very ending of it has stuck with me since I saw it several years ago. Talkin’ about…the voices. Bwah ha ha! Just kidding. But really it was a great movie.

    Well, duty calls. Just doing the next right thing- the dishes!

    Comment by Francine — September 8, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

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